The story of Modena’s
longest-established car constructor
IN THE MOTORING WORLD SINCE 1900
Modena’s motoring tradition is so strong as to be part of the city’s cultural identity. The people of Modena feel they have a passion for racing cars in their blood, a passion as dear to their hearts as that for a dish of delicious tortellini washed down by a glass of local Lambrusco wine. Anyone wishing to get to know Modena and the spirit of its culture must start with good food and drink and the story of its cars.
This story began very early here: interest in motoring took root at the dawn of the last century, with the birth of small workshops destined to become great constructors of racing cars, including some of the fastest in the world.
They include Stanguellini, Modena’s oldest name in motoring. In 1900 Francesco Stanguellini, who had inherited the business founded by his father Celso in 1879 to produce orchestral timpani with his own mechanical tuning system, decided to focus single-mindedly on cars and converted the workshop accordingly.
A love of motorsports goes back a long way in the Stanguellini family: in the very first years of the Twentieth Century Francesco raced three-wheelers before graduating to a Ceirano and a Scat, and he eventually became Fiat’s first representative in Modena. In 1925 the young Scuderia Stanguellini racing team rose to fame by competing and winning on Modena-built Mignon motorcycles.
CAR TUNING, BIRTH OF THE STANGUELLINI TEAM
Sporty, dynamic Francesco died young in 1932 and Vittorio, his only son, found himself at the head of the business at the age of 22. With an amazing flair for engines, Vittorio focused on tuning and modifying cars and transformed this passion into a real, permanent business from 1936. His first products were 750 and 1100 cc Sport Nazionale Vetturette class cars and also a massive 2800 cc Sport Nazionale, also derived from a Fiat model.
The first Squadra Stanguellini racing team, launched in 1937, comprised Baravelli in a Fiat 500, Rangoni in a Fiat 508 Sport, Severi in a Maserati 1500 and Zanella in a Fiat 500. Francesco Severi, in his Maserati 1500 modified by Stanguellini and nurtured with loving care by head mechanic Renato Cornia, won first place overall in the 28th Targa Florio. In 1938 Giulio Baravelli won the XII Mille Miglia in the 750 Stanguellini, and other major races soon raised the workshop’s notoriety to an international level. Abroad, successes culminated with the victory of Baravelli’s little 750 in the Tobruk-Tripoli, while Stanguellini dominated the 1940 Mille Miglia with first places in the 750 and 1100 classes.
STANGUELLINI’S PASSION FIRES UP THE ITALIANS
In 1940 the Second World War brought operations to a temporary halt, but after the wartime hiatus Vittorio was ready to return to racing with renewed enthusiasm, and victories soon came thick and fast. In 1946 Squadra Stanguellini won the overall Italian Championship and victory in the Belgian Grand Prix, where Bertani’s 1100 came home ahead of the Simca-Gordini driven by Amedeo Gordini himself.
1947 was Scuderia Stanguellini’s golden year: the team’s successes multiplied and not a Sunday passed without a win for at least one car built or tuned by Stanguellini. Stanguellini’s passion fired up the Italians, who were thrilled by the racing prowess of this small team, as it scored repeated wins over cars in higher classes and built by top constructors. Young Vincenzo Auricchio was helped by a little good luck when he won the Pescara Grand Prix in his 1100 Sport ahead of Cortese’s Ferrari 125S, but on the Cascine Circuit in Florence he again defeated the Ferrari, this time on merit alone, at the wheel of his trusty Stanguellini 1100.
THE BARCHETTA SPORT TECHNICAL REVOLUTION: THE NEW TWIN-CAM ENGINES
Between 1947 and the early Fifties, the Modena-modified fast little Barchetta Sport cars underwent a radical technical revolution. The chassis were entirely built at the Stanguellini workshop from high-strength tubular steel for excellent rigidity and lighter weight. The Fiat suspensions and rear axle were retained. 1949 saw the construction, entirely in-house, of the first twin-cam cylinder head for the 1100 engine, which also involved complex changes to the standard Fiat engine block. In response to the encouraging results achieved with the 1100 engine (in the Giro di Sicilia Sergio Sighinolfi set a record which stood unbeaten for years), in 1950 the workshop designed the new twin-cam 750 engine built entirely by Stanguellini, using a high proportion of aluminium. The two twin-cam engines were the Modena constructor’s flagship product, and are the basis for its lasting automotive fame.
THE FIFTIES AT THE “WORKSHOP OF MIRACLES”
The twin-cam engines reinforced Stanguellini’s image as a successful tuner and constructor. At this time, the 750 Sport Internazionale and 750 Corsa were the cars to beat on the Italian and foreign circuits. Stanguellini cars won a number of competitions, including the 750 Sport Class Italian Championship five times in nine years: in ‘47, ‘52, ‘54, ‘55 and ‘56. There were also many wins abroad, including the victory by Americans Behm-Haas-McArthur in the 1957 Sebring 12 Hour race, which added greatly to the notoriety of the Stanguellini name.
The size of the racing team grew hand-in-hand with its fame. Vittorio, all of whose time was taken up with sales, racing, the conversion of small and medium-size truck chassis and the production of engine test beds, hired two assistants, Renato Cornia and Franco Goldoni, whose invaluable input soon made them essential to the business’s success. Engineer Alberto Massimino supplied sound technical advice, while Vittorio’s friend, extrovert draftsman and artist Franco Reggiani, helped to style the lines of the bodywork.
In the Fifties Stanguellini was a famous name, and the workshop was already attracting visits from racing fans.
This is how Guido Piovene describes it in his “Viaggio in Italia”, published in 1956:
“Stanguellini the tuner …. transforms ordinary Fiat cars into race-winners. Stanguellini’s work, based on precise calculations, is mainly aimed at reducing cars’ weight, […] he makes holes wherever he can, strips things away to remove weight: it is a strange workshop where people pay twenty thousand lire for every kilo less”.
This is how famous sports journalist Gianni Marin ended an article about the Modenese “magician”:
“Some people visiting Modena may choose not to climb the Ghirlandina bell tower or admire the iconic bucket stolen in the ancient wars against Bologna, but no-one keen on motorsports will want to miss calling on Stanguellini and paying a short visit to his “Workshop of miracles”.
THE YEARS OF FORMULA JUNIOR SUCCESS
Someone often to be found at the Stanguellini workshop, and who eventually became a real family friend, was the famous Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio. His advice and initial test drives were a major factor in the immediate success of the Stanguellini Formula Junior 1100 cars, the single-seaters built for the new Italian formula for up-and-coming drivers, which soon became international.
From the Fifties to the Seventies, the Junior cars from Modena swept the board of cups and trophies, marking up around a hundred wins, so many of them were built. In 1962 the Italian Racing Drivers’ Association, the ANCAI, awarded Vittorio Stanguellini the Formula Junior constructors’ World Trophy.
World speed records were another area where Vittorio achieved great success. Pietro Campanella and Angelo Poggio brought their Guzzi-engined record-breaker the Nibbio to the Modena workshop for fine tuning, and 24 world records ensued.
This led to the construction of the innovative Colibrì with Stanguellini chassis and bodywork designed by Franco Scaglione. This vetturetta with its extreme aerodynamics, initially designed to accommodate the ground-breaking, powerful eight-cylinder Guzzi 500, set six world records on the Monza high speed circuit in October 1963 driven by the smaller single-cylinder Guzzi 250.
Another innovative car from the same period was less fortunate: the excellent chassis of the rear-engined Junior Delfino single-seater built in 1962 was unable to compensate for the Italian propulsion units’ lack of power compared to the widely used Ford Anglia engine. Vittorio’s very last racing creation was a Formula 3, but due to the gap in above all economic resources it was unable to achieve its objective, to the great disappointment of his son Francesco, who by this time had his licence and was hoping to drive it on the circuits.
NOT JUST RACING CARS
In the mid Sixties, Stanguellini turned his back on racing to dedicate on sales and service at his workshop, but he left an immense cultural legacy to the motoring world, and not just in the area of racing cars. In fact, in the Postwar years he was already building a number of road cars, such as the 4-seater 1100 Sport Berlinetta with hard-top coupe bodywork by Bertone and the Fiat Stanguellini 1200 Bertone, of which just one was constructed. The last model to spring from Vittorio’s creative genius with development in-house in Modena was the Momo Mirage, a large sports coupe with Chevrolet V8 5300 engine modified with Lucas mechanical injection and Frua bodywork, destined for small-scale standard production had the oil crisis not halted the project after construction of the prototypes.
VITTORIO’S LEGACY: A GLORIOUS CHAPTER IN ITALIAN MOTORSPORTS
Vittorio Stanguellini died in Modena on 4 December 1981 at 71 years of age. The global motorsports press paid homage to him as the father of the Junior cars. The passion for racing was undimmed and his son Francesco, an enthusiastic classic car driver, handed this love down to his children, who maintain their family’s cultural heritage for the future. They have a flag to defend and a traditional and a name to support: the workshop which restores, tunes and modifies classic cars is still in operation, but above all the Museo Stanguellini is a magical location, which conserves the priceless memory of a splendid chapter in Italian motorsports and entrepreneurial history. It is our mission to preserve and promote the history of Automobili Stanguellini and that world of creative fervour and enthusiasm. Automobili Stanguellini is a worldwide ambassador for our Region’s Motor Valley and an essential port of call for anyone wishing to understand the true spirit of Italian motorsports.